7,000 miles away from home and alone on a rooftop in Iraq

March 1, 2006 

— Spec. Jacob Schenk is 20 years old and in June he will be old enough to have his first legal beer. He graduated from Deitrich High School in 2003 a few months after the Iraq war started, but he graduated from Army basic training at Fort Knox, Ky., the summer vacation before his senior year.

Schenk is 5-foot-8, 135 pounds, and at the rate he's aging, he looks like he will get carded at bars until he's 30. He's nearly always smiling.

Schenk is sitting in "the eagle's nest" at Patrol Base Barbarian with two rifles in front of him, an M-4 carbine and an M-240 machine gun. He's in full battle dress: bulletproof body armor and a Kevlar battle helmet.

He's 7,000 miles away from home and alone on a rooftop in Iraq on his first overseas deployment. It's 9 p.m. and he's two hours into an eight-hour watch.

Here's what's on his mind:

"You're up here alone, and you kind of think about everything: What's the rest of the deployment going to be like and what's going on at home. You think about home a lot when you're up here. When you think about home now, it’s not as depressing as it was in the beginning. Before this, the longest time I'd ever been away from my friends and family was basic training. Other than that, this is the first time I've ever been away from my friends and family.

"Saying goodbye is the hardest, that's something I wouldn't want to have to do again.

"It's almost more of an opportunity than anything. If I had the chance to come over here and didn't, I would regret it forever.

"I do my share of complaining and everything, it still sucks. ... I guess mostly it’s the fact that you're away from home. As far as the living conditions and all that, we've got it pretty good. The guys who came over here in Operation Iraqi Freedom I, they slept in tents in the desert.

"There's been times when the adrenaline has been pumping pretty good, but as far as being scared, I don't think so. I'm more the sort of person who thinks everything happens for a reason. If it's my time, then it's my time. There's nothing I can do about it.

-- Roger Phillips

Although I’ve been in Iraq as a photographer less than a week, I’ve already started anticipating the way children will clamor at me. So when a little boy approached me Wednesday, I was prepared to show him my cameras or have him ask me to take his picture.

I wasn’t prepared for a moment of magic. And I didn’t even think to photograph it!

I was with some soldiers from Bravo Company who were getting out of the vehicles at a hospital in Kirkuk to deliver toys. I was taking out my earplugs and getting my camera gear ready.

Anyway, this tiny boy — he must have been 2 or 3 — and his dad came walking up to say hello to the soldiers. When the little guy sees me, he rips his hand away from his dad and runs over to me.

Instead of what kids usually do, though, he reached up to me. In his hand was a bunch of little yellow flowers he must have just picked from the grass. And he handed them to me.

I was so stunned, I didn’t know how to react. It was so sudden and quick — almost magical — all I could do is say “Thank you.” Just as quickly he turned and ran back to his dad and they walked away.

My jaw dropped and my eyes teared up and all I could do was stand there and stare. It didn't even occur to me to shoot his photograph.

I think it was about the coolest and most touching thing that has ever happened to me. I will never forget it.

-- Kim Hughes

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